How To Use A Random Orbital Sander


If you have ever had the misfortune to have to rub down some old wood, then you will probably know this involves some type of sandpaper, and a load of hours of elbow grease, worn fingers and mind boring numbness. Trust me the easy part is going to the store and buying the sandpaper.

People then started to get a little more clever and learned to wrap the sandpaper around a wooden block to make it easy on the fingers. Then along came one of my best friends called Mr Technology, and electrical sanders were born. In those early days they were useless, but they were still better than my fingers and coarse sandpaper.

The Arrival of Random Orbit Sanders

Now I do love my power tools a lot, and if one exists for a task, then most likely I will own at least one version of that product. Right at the top of my list would be one of these, and if you do any work with wood, then other than a saw, one of these will be right up there.

These have quite simply changed the way we can now sand wood and leave it ready for a great finish. So if you have ever tried to strip varnish off table tops, paint off window frames, or tried to get a door to fit, then these are a product sent down from heaven.

How To Use A Random Orbit Sander For Best Results

These are almost intuitive to use, but there are certain techniques that will make them more efficient, and also more effective. I have done a buying guide which you can read for the important features. If you know what these features are, or already own one of these sanders, then you will hopefully find the information below useful.

Let me start with what I think is a really good video that I found over on YouTube.

If you do nothing else other than follow the tips that this chap shows you on the video, then you will make great use of your sander, for all sorts of jobs. My top tip is to experiment at the start on some old wood, until you get a good feel for your new sander.

I have used a lot of these over the years, and even the same model may have some little differences. It just takes a little time to get used to the feel of the one that you own. With the random orbit versions there are those two important movements of spinning and then also moving in an oval fashion. In days gone past orbital sanders just spun around.

That kept the sandpaper on the one area of wood and caused circles or swirls and spirals to appear. With the added action of an oval movement, the paper moved over a wider area in a random fashion, and as such stopped or reduced swirling marks.

Removing the Stock Uniformly

how to use a sanderMost people get this wrong. If you are working on something like a door or a table top, they just start sanding without really knowing how much of the wood they are removing. Marking this with a pencil as shown in the video will ensure this never happens to you. It takes seconds and saves hours of frustration.

Sand With The Grain

Always, always, and I mean always sand with the grain and never across it. The number of times I have seen people do this the wrong way is incredible. If you want a smooth finish, go parallel and with the grain.

Don’t Forget The Edges

Another common mistake is to not allow the sander to pass over the edges. Failure to do that will mean that you miss the corners and the edges. That results in a very poor finish which is never a good thing. You want about a third of the pad hanging over the edge to avoid the rounding of corners.

Do Not Lean or Force A Sander

The weight of your sander is all that is required when sanding any surface. Many beginners, or those in a hurry, tend to push pressure down on to the sander to make it remove stock quicker. that is a HUGE mistake. Your hand should only ever guide the sander and never push down on it.

If you apply pressure a number of bad things happen. It will slow down the speed of your sander which you do not want. It makes the motor try to work harder and that will cause the motor to burn out quicker. It also leaves you with a poor finish as it tends to cause swirls. Finally you will never get a good finish. Patience is the key and let the sander do the work.

Ignore the Annoying Marks or Spots

When you are trying to get a really nice finish on a wooden surface, there will always be at least one spot that gets right up your nose. You will want to get rid of it. To do this I have seen people turn the pad on to the edge and try to dig down or focus on that one area.

Again a big mistake as it will cause gouging and leave a bad finish. Wood has blemishes and it is a natural thing to find in all types of wood.

Hook Up To A Vacuum System

dust extractorIf you are just using this for a few small jobs forget about a vacuum system. It is too expensive and too much trouble to get it all set up. It is also only of real value if you are going to be in a workshop or a garage doing the work.

If that is where you are going to be using your sander, then get a vacuum system installed for power tools like your circular saw, miter saw or sander.

It makes clean up easy and saves you hours of time.

Stay Safe

These days vibration is almost non-existent in these types of sanders. To stay safe all you need is some type of hearing protection and safety glasses. I would also strongly recommend a dust mask unless you have a good dust extraction system.

Now I know many people will say that this is a bit over the top. Well let me put it this way. I want to be able to hear, see and breathe. A few cheap items will make sure I am able to do that, so a no brainer for me. I have no doubt that Mr Macho man will be having a laugh, but I will stick with being safe. I have seen many builders, woodworkers and construction staff in eye hospitals to have convinced me.

Enda McLarnon

Enda McLarnon is now retired and is now enjoying writing about his love of power tools. All types of these tools are now available and they make working on projects and DIY jobs around the home a great deal of fun